If absence makes the heart grow fonder, what happens to relationships when
couples are stuck in lockdown together for nearly a year?
To start, marriage counselors are busier than ever. “There’s a lot of marital stress,” says Rockville-based clinical psychologist Dr. Samantha Rodman, who works with both couples and individuals. “Nobody was meant to be with their spouse 24/7. That’s not how the world operated before this.”
Rodman explains that when couples are close to each other day in and day out, issues that were previously able to be swept under the rug are harder to ignore. Even in marriages that were strong pre-pandemic, being together all the time can amplify each partner’s faults in the other person’s mind.
And then there’s the sweatpants situation.
“People aren’t looking their best. They’re not dressing up. They’re not exercising. They’re not doing much of anything except sitting on the couch,” says Rodman. “That isn’t exactly beneficial for the libidos of most people. They’re feeling like garbage about themselves too, so that doesn’t help anything either.”
One way to rekindle the romance, according to Rodman, is to add novelty back into the relationship. Some ideas include playing tennis together, having a date night in the dining room after the kids go to sleep or starting a home improvement project. Extroverted couples who previously built their social life around double dating may enjoy Zoom or socially distanced hangouts with friends.
Rodman suggests setting aside time as a couple several times a week. For example, “Saturday is the day we take a walk together, Wednesday night we watch our show together, Thursday we wake up and do an exercise video together,” she says. “When people have rituals that are less often than weekly, it doesn’t do much.”
The key, she adds, is planning. “The lockdown took away people’s ability to look forward to things,” says Rodman, explaining that anticipating an event produces more positive feelings than the actual activity itself.
“If you try to schedule things that you can look forward to as a couple, then that’s going to change the frame tremendously,” she says. “It goes from seeing your spouse as somebody who’s a roommate to seeing them in a more intimate light.”
Then, once you have those dates on the calendar, it may be time to change out those elastic-waist pants.
This story originally appeared in our February-March 2021 issue.